Last-Minute Decisions for Milford, N.H., Voters
Last March, when we first visited Milford, N.H., to gauge residents' attitudes about the upcoming primary, the presidential race was far from people's minds. Now, on the verge of Tuesday's balloting, the number of undecided voters has shrunk dramatically.
Milford is a lot like New Hampshire: It traditionally votes Republican, but it also has a lot of independent voters and lots of new arrivals, who are turning the red state more blue.
Local officials are hoping for a record turnout in the southern New Hampshire town. Town clerk Peggy Langell said she's hoping the town doesn't run out of ballots. People can register in New Hampshire on the day of the primary — and officials are getting lots of calls from folks who want to do just that. Nearly 50 percent of Milford voters are undeclared or independent.
Some of the residents who have been interviewed over the past year discussed their outlook for the primary at a local cafe on Sunday.
Noreen O'Connell, chairwoman of the Milford Board of Selectmen, is an independent — or "painfully independent," as she puts it.
A few months ago, she was undecided. She has made up her mind, planning to vote for an underdog, Democrat Bill Richardson.
"He is a diplomat. He has balanced a budget, and as a selectman, I know how hard that is," she says. "He might not be as flamboyant, but I think he's a Steady Eddie."
Her husband Tim, a Republican state representative, is backing Republican John McCain. He says McCain speaks straight, takes difficult stands and has shown the ability to work on both sides of the Senate aisle.
But Tim O'Connell says he's not as enthusiastic a McCain supporter as he was eight years ago, when McCain won the New Hampshire primary, and it's because of one thing: McCain's support for the Iraq war, which Tim says he strongly opposed.
"I sometimes get the feeling that Sen. McCain might be a little trigger-happy," he says.
Gail and Jack Ruonala, Republican retirees, settled on a candidate just a few days ago, but not wholeheartedly.
"Well, sort of Romney," Gail Ruonala says.
Jack Ruonala says he "wouldn't vote for any of them with a great deal of enthusiasm." None of the candidates "gives you the feeling that this is the guy or gal that's going to really do things for the country which are really going to be beneficial," he says.
Gail says she's looking for a person who has strong international credentials.
Asked to remember the last time she was excited about a candidate, she says, "Well, this goes back a long, long way, but how about Eisenhower?"
You do hear considerably more excitement about the Democratic field.
Steve and Cammie Opre are strong supporters of John Edwards. She is a Democrat. He was a Republican for 20 years but switched to independent last month.
"It's great to be able to look at a field of candidates and see a number of them that if any of those people became president I think the country would be in good shape," Steve Opre says. "It's not just bad choice or worse choice."
Cammie Opre says she did go back and look more carefully at Barack Obama after his win in Iowa last week.
People at her church "feel he's great but he is young," she says. "The older people, my parents' generation are all like, 'Ooh, a little young.' They just can't feel comfortable with him."
"What was interesting, I did my own informal poll at church," she says. "Everyone was voting for Richardson. I couldn't believe it. This is what people are missing about New Hampshire: If you give us a choice of A or B, we pick C. If you give us A, B or C, we pick D. Don't tell us we only have two choices, you know. You can't tell us that."
Milford library director Michelle Sampson lost her top choice. She was backing Democrat Joe Biden, who left the race after a dismal finish in Iowa.
"I was really disappointed," she says. "I was a Biden girl. I loved Joe Biden and, hopefully, perhaps he'll make a wonderful secretary of state now that he's dropped out."
So she went to a forum on Friday to hear the other Democrats, and she became a convert to Obama.
"I was completely and utterly blown away by hearing him speak," she says. "You know, I called my mom at home in Pennsylvania right after and I said I have one word for you ... Kennedy. I mean, I had goose bumps. Politicians don't give me goose bumps."
Karin Lagro, an independent, set up a spreadsheet to compare all the candidates on both sides. Now, she's made her choice:
"I've actually made a decision just this week, and it's sort of surprising me. I'm going to vote for [Hillary] Clinton. I really, really wanted to like Barack Obama, but one of my concerns is that I think we're at a time where foreign policy is going to be an enormous issue — and I think that his lack of experience shows there."
Steve O'Keefe, a Republican who works for Fidelity Investments, has changed his mind several times. He was 100 percent for Mitt Romney, then flirted with Mike Huckabee. Now he says he's 95 percent sure he'll vote for Romney. O'Keefe likes Romney's leadership experience with the Olympics, likes his business sense and thinks he'll continue what Republicans are known for: cutting taxes and providing "some sort of kick to this economy" amid concerns of a recession.
"I think Mitt Romney is ready to do that based off his business background," O'Keefe says. "You know, somebody could just really impress me over the next day. Maybe John McCain's going to knock on my door ... But to be honest with you, right now it's definitely for Mitt."
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